Life in Four-Wheel Drive Territory
Karen Gregory starts each work day with a breathtaking vista of the sand dunes, an open beach and the shimmering sea.
The Village Realty employee journeys 15 miles on the sand from her home in Carova to the company's Corolla office five days a week.
"We live all the way up there at milepost 23," Gregory said. "The N.C. line is 24 milepost."
Her commute can be interrupted by sea turtles, wild horses or the occasional marine mammal, such as a seal.
After work, she heads north, hits the beach ramp at Ocean Hill and leaves the roads and her cares behind.
"That feels pretty darn good," Gregory said. "Come off the paved road, hit that sand with the ocean in front of me, the smell of the salt, it's so relaxing."
It takes a certain type of vehicle to make the commute twice a day and she drives one of the preferred trucks for the job: a 1995 GMC Suburban with big tires.
"You can only drive clunkers on the beach," Gregory said. "It just doesn't make sense to do anything else."
As for the big tires, she said they "make a big difference." Gregory also had a small lift job on the Suburban because the big tires were hitting the wheel wells.
Depending on the conditions, she may have to creep down the beach strand when tides are high or when there are a lot of people along the "road."
At other times, however, the beach is flat with no one around. Gregory compares these conditions to Daytona Beach. If she's careful, Gregory said she can make good time, especially on the way to the Corolla office.
On these days, she can shift out of four-wheel drive and go down the hard-packed beach in two-wheel drive, Gregory said.
"Those of us who live up there try to preserve the four-wheel drive," she said. "Sometimes, I get home and realize, 'oh, I never put it in four-wheel drive.'
"Air pressure is key, I use about seventeen [pounds of pressure] in all four," Gregory said.
The drive to and from Village Realty sometimes becomes an adventure.
"For me, the best things on the way to work and back are when I find critters on the beach," she said. "I've found turtles hatching; I've found seals that have come up.
"They just hang out on the beach and rest," Gregory said. "Shore birds are so funny to watch.
"They try to fly with big ole fish - just trying to fly," she said.
Gregory has commuted from Carova - a shortened version of Carolina and Virginia combined - for three years. Storms have caused her to miss work a few times.
"I've missed a total of five days because of the [high] tide," Gregory said, "three in a row from the November storm."
In 2007, Gregory and her husband moved from Pittsboro to the Currituck Outer Banks after vacationing there since 1995.
That came after spending five weeks vacationing in the area, which made them realize they should move to Carova.
"We need to buy something if we're going to stay here so much," Gregory said.
They bought a house on Lighthouse Drive in Whalehead that was scheduled to be relocated or demolished and had it moved to Carova.
She did all of the research and planning to get the job done. Longtime friend, Charlie Robinson, helped them find a lot, she said.
As for the move, it was a sight to see.
"It was recycling at its best," Gregory said. "It leaves you with a clean building lot.
"They drove it up the beach - that was a trip," she said.
In addition to work and relaxing on the beach on days off, Gregory volunteers for the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles or NEST, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund and the Carova Beach Fire Department.
As a turtle nest sitter, she got a treat early one morning when she arrived at a loggerhead nest just as 98 baby turtles hatched.
"The suckers were halfway down the beach," Gregory said.
Other grand days include plenty of big dogs and dog parties on the beach with their friends and neighbors, especially when the weather is nice.
"The people who live up there are a lot of fun," she said. "It's sort of like Cheers, everybody knows your name.
"We've also met some really, really nice people who've come up there on vacation," Gregory said.
"We have four dogs - they love the beach," she said. "Everybody up there seems to have big dogs. It can turn into a real dog party."
One such day, Gregory said there were 13 dogs in all, Labs and Golden Retrievers all playing in the ocean together.
So with the store so far away, what does Gregory and her husband Dean do when they run out of milk, bread or butter?
"You do without or call a neighbor!" she said.